I finally managed to track down the text to a very elusive and rare Roald Dahl short story entitled “In the Ruins”. I am absurdly proud of this. I like being an expert at something. Granted, it’s not in a very lucrative field, but I take some pride in the notion that (other than his relatives and biographers), I probably know more about Roald Dahl than anybody else on the planet. Isn’t that nuts? The thing is, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t actually enjoy his books anymore. He’s an academic challenge for me. I started the site as an exercise to learn HTML and produce some content, but somehow along the way it turned into something else. It’s like a job now. I do it because nobody else does and I think somebody ought to. There’s an odd feeling of possessiveness involved. Dahl is mine.
Which reminds me, I recently read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which (among other things) is about the “cult of the author” and the way fans/critics/scholars deconstruct and construct writers’ lives. I identified with a lot of it. There’s quite a thrill associated with discovering something the “average” fan doesn’t know. I surf eBay and I have to restrain myself from the impulse to buy every crap piece of Dahl-iana that’s on offer. I don’t need the stuff, but the urge to possess everything is powerful. I found the character of Mortimer Cropper distasteful yet sympathetic. There but for the grace of God (and lack of a lot of money) go I.
To bring it back to “In the Ruins”, this story has only been reprinted a few times. It’s obviously not one that Dahl or his family felt would contribute to his legacy. So should I have bothered tracking it down? Do literary scholars have any responsibility to respect their (dead) subjects’ privacy? Is it wrong to make museum pieces out of someone’s personal items? I’m rambling. I think about these things though.
(Oh, and if you decide to read the story, be forewarned that it’s pretty gruesome. Best not read it right after lunch.)